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Soluble vs. Insoluble Fibre: What’s the Difference? Print

You may have heard that fibre is good for us and that we generally need more of it, but do you really know what it is?

Fibre is a carbohydrate but with an interesting twist. Unlike other carbohydrates such as sugars or starches, fibre does not get digested and absorbed in the traditional sense. Fibres are long chains of carbohydrates that withstand our body’s digestive process. In other words, they do not get broken up by our digestive enzymes nor do they provide us with any calories, or energy. It is their indigestible nature which provides us with unique health benefits.fibre full breakfast

What’s more, is that there are two distinct types of fibre, soluble and insoluble which differ in their physical structure and impact on health. When soluble fibre, found in oats, chia seeds, psyllium husks, legumes and some fruits, is combined with water it forms a gel-like substance. In the digestive tract, this viscous gel-like substance helps combat diarrhea and has been shown to improve blood sugar control by slowing down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Along with its effect on blood sugars, soluble fibre also disrupts the absorption of dietary cholesterol and can improve LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol. 

There is also evidence that suggests that soluble fibre plays a role in satiating hunger (or keeping us fuller for longer). This may explain why a bowl of oatmeal is so filling or “sticks to your ribs”, as they say. Some types of soluble fibres are also broken down and fermented by the beneficial bacteria in our large intestine as a food source, or prebiotic.

Unlike soluble fibre, the insoluble fibre found in many fruits, vegetables and whole grains does not form a gel in the digestive tract. Rather, it serves to provide bulk and structure to our stool which benefits our large intestine. Diets high in insoluble fibre are associated with less constipation, and helpful in the management of diverticular disease and hemorrhoids.

Current dietary recommendations for fibre are 25 grams per day for adult women and 38 grams per day for adult men. Most people eat well under this amount of fibre. While both types of fibre are needed, it’s not generally necessary to keep a daily tally of the amounts of each type of fibre you are eating. You’d probably drive yourself mad doing this. The good thing is that most sources of fibre do contain a bit of both types but differ in the proportions of each they contain. Some foods contain a higher percentage of soluble fibre while others contain more insoluble fibre. If you need better blood sugar or cholesterol control, you may benefit from choosing foods with a higher percentage of soluble fibre (like oats or pears), while those with constipation may want to include those with more insoluble fibre (like wheat bran).

For the most part, what’s really important is to focus on total fibre intake and ensure that it meets the recommended amount (25 g for women and 38 g for men). This can be done by including lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds in your diet each day. When reading the nutrition facts label, look for foods with at least 2 grams of fibre per serving. Those with 4 or more grams of fibre are considered ‘high fibre’ and definitely worth including. If you want a complete list of fibre containing foods, check here.

An important note:  remember to increase fibre intake slowly and to make sure you are drinking enough fluids. Fibres need fluids, or else you’ll find yourself constipated (or more constipated). While there isn’t a specific recommendation for the amount of fluids to be drinking per increment of dietary fibre, you can start with 6-8 cups of fluids per day (water, tea, coffee, soup, etc) and take more if needed (if exercising or in hot, humid weather).

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"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
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Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
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Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

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I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

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Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
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